My last post (“Bouncing Back from Adversity is a Core Leadership Skill”) featured PEAK’s Learning Adversity Continuum. The research that produced this response range for dealing with life’s setbacks, pain, and suffering showed that a tiny minority of people (strong Leaders) use adversity as fuel to move toward higher ever higher personal and team/organizational leadership.

A critical and fundamental step in harnessing adversity is to reframe the situation. This means shifting from a pessimistic to an optimistic viewpoint. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has made tremendous strides in helping people with pessimistic explanatory styles become much more optimistic. This involves teaching how to dispute Wallowing thoughts through self-argument, weighing objective evidence, exploring more desirable alternatives, “decatastrophizing” the long-term implications, and challenging the usefulness of dwelling on that negative belief/view.

Here’s a menu of reframing tips and techniques I pulled together for Growing @ the Speed of Change:

• Don’t generalize or judge. Instead of generalizing – “life’s unfair” – you might more specifically say, “This is unfair.”
• Ask what’s the worst that could happen? Will you be boiled in hot lard? Will they take away your kids? Will you be tarred, feathered, and dragged down Main Street?
• Think of the situation you’re facing as a video or board game; you have this puzzle to solve. What are the possibilities? What are your choices?
• Imagine how a strong leader whom you admire might handle this situation.
• Recall or even list times in the past when you overcame problems as bad as or worse than this one. What can you draw from those experiences? Can they at least help you keep this problem in perspective?
• Read stories of major obstacles or adversity that others have overcome in their lives. How does your problem compare? What can you learn from them?
• Force yourself to get moving by getting some exercise, taking a walk, or having a workout.
• Notice and label your thoughts as they pop into your head. “There’s anger.” “That’s fear.” “I feel sad.” “There’s a negative affirmation.” Say them out loud either to yourself or a confidante. Write down or discuss alternatives.
• Think of your brain as another body organ, like your stomach. Just as you might notice your empty stomach growling, you can notice “there goes my brain again being a worry wart.” Or, “I see my brain is still clinging to that old hurt.”
• Pretend your negative thoughts are loud, annoying commercials trying to sell you junk you don’t need. You might respond with “Not today,” “I am not buying that one,” or, “Where is the mute button so I can silence your annoying drivel?”
• Schedule regular reflection time. Review your vision, values, and purpose. Read inspirational material. Meditate. Focus on life’s bigger issues and put today’s concerns into context.

Martin Seligman is a CBT guru and has researched and written extensively about pessimism/optimism. Learned Optimism is one of his earlier books that’s become a classic. His more recent book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment is one of the best self-leadership books of our time. He writes, “The key to disputing your own pessimistic thoughts is to first recognize them and then to treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life was to make you miserable.” Read my reviews of both books on my LinkedIn Profile.